‘Tender’ is a collection of short, Borgesian short stories, where the fantastical are entwined with different versions of our world, or rather the world is seen via the lens of Samatar’s imagination, which chooses to explore issues like identity, belonging, immigration and the tribulations of not fitting in via a series of weird and wondrous narratives. ‘Walkdog’ is a story in the form on an essay about the blossoming romance between the narrator and the strange and awkward nephew of her teacher, who is missing and has presumably been killed by a mythical creature, ‘An Account of the Land of Witches’ is the story of one person’s search for a mythical land, however beneath the fable-like qualities of the stories, Samatar is exploring various aspects of the human conditions, a theme which reaches its crescendo in ‘Fallow’. ‘Fallow’ explores the life of a young girl in a village which, perhaps in a deliberate homage to Kafka, sits next to an all powerful castle whose mysterious inner workings dominate village life. However ‘Fallow’ is much more than this, as the narrator explore the lives of the various lachrymose characters who inhabit the village, including the tender Miss Snowflake and the pathetic yet oddly sympathetic Brother Lookout, it is as if each of these characters are seen through the pale half-light of the world Samatar creates.
A sense of humanism told by the lens of fantasy would be the best way to sum-up Samatar’s short story collection, whilst there are a few weaker stories, they are levelled off by the quality of her stronger ones like ‘Walkdog’, ‘Fallow’ and ‘Honey Bear’.